Fresh Cougar Tracks
by Carey Boyce
Jemez River, NM 1995
While fly-fishing on the Jemez River in New Mexico, I entered the river's narrow canyon and headed upstream. In actuality, this canyon is known as a lava cistern cut into the earth thousands of years ago by volcanic flow.
It was no more than twenty five feet wide and the vertical walls were a mere thirty feet tall. My Golden Retriever, Bernard, and I jumped from boulder to boulder as we traversed the river. Fly-fishing always took us to remote and exhilarating destinations and on this day there wasn't a soul around.
Not more than a half hour passed when my retriever, Bernard, stopped dead in his tracks. He would not budge when I called him, which was rare indeed. He held fast in the middle of the stream on a large boulder. His only action was continual barking up toward the canyon's top ledge. He never faltered or changed position as his yelps echoed off the stone walls and to describe the terror and panic flowing through my veins (to this day) is quite impossible. I looked in every direction upward to no avail. . . nothing caught my eye.
My only recourse was to hightail it out of that canyon and hope to God Bernard would do the same. I continued to scream at the top of my lungs and whistle as loud as I could in hopes my dog might snap out of his protective trance and follow suit. As I made my escape down river, it felt as though I was being stalked, by what I wasn't sure. The overwhelming feeling was so eerie I inwardly cowered like never before.
I made it safely out of the canyon and surprisingly my Golden Retriever, Bernard, was close behind. It was apparent that whatever had been stalking us was long gone. The persistent and determined antics of my dog saved my life. We quickly headed down the forest trail that lead to the safety of my SUV. Along the way, I stopped momentarily along the lower river to observe the unmistakable fresh tracks of a Mountain Lion or as some like to say, cougar. To this day, I never go anywhere without "man's best friend."
C. E. Boyce